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Posts Tagged ‘signs of God’

RUMI REVELATIONS: True knowledge, and actual ignorance

In excerpts and quotes, God, literature, philosophy, poetry, Quran, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, The Method on September 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

The insights revealed by literature are sometimes more powerful and incisive than the best of sciences…

I have found many extracts from Rumi’s spiritual outpourings that expand and illuminate on the current topic of this blog.

My interspersed commentary is an attempt to both link the extracts and make them more accessible to readers. Note that any underlining in the excerpted poetry is mine.

 

Rumi on the true versus the weak sources of real knowledge↓:

1. A QUATRAIN

Ignorent men  are the soul’s enemy

Shatter the jar of smug words

Cling for life to those who know

Prop a mirror in water, it rusts

———-

We are coming straight from a discussion with the upshot that how science, despite all the progress it has incurred, must still fall short on revealing the true nature of this world and the truest guidelines for human living. It’s the divine which makes up for this lack in our lives, not the human. The wordy lectures and papers of the self-claimed ‘learned’ men while ‘informative’, actually tell us nothing about what we really need to know.

____________________________________________

2. A QUATRAIN

Reason, leave now! You’ll not find wisdom here!

Were you thin as a hair, there’d still be no room.

The Sun is risen! In its vast dazzle

Every lamp is drowned.

—————-

From:

3. STORY WATER

Water, stories, the body,

all the things we do, are mediums

that hide and show what’s hidden.

Study them,

and enjoy this being washed

with a secret we sometimes know

and then not.

————

4. From

GOD IN NATURE

Ascend from materiality into the world of spirits, hearken to the loud voice of the universe;

Then thou wilt know that God is glorified by all inanimate things: the doubts raised by false interpreters will not beguile thee.

———————–

5. From

IMMEDIATE KNOWLEDGE

Come, recognize that your sensation and imagination and understanding are like the reed-cane on which children ride.

The spiritual man’s knowledge bears him aloft; the sensual man’s knowledge is a burden.

God hath said, Like an ass laden with books: heavy is the knowledge that is not inspired by Him;

But if you carry it for no selfish ends, the load will be lifted and you will feel delight.

____________________________________________________________________

God with His Brilliance and Actuality certainly pales any other source of enlightenment and illumination possible. Not only that, Our Creator’s mysterious workings and intricate powers seem to have enmeshed themselves with the fabric of the ‘apparent’ world created for our temporary existence. Such that the closest possible examination of any corner or pattern on the tapestry of this world either blinds us (given the Dazzle of the Source of things). Burdened by the contradictory and mutative conclusions from our observations and the enigma of explaining what we can see and can’t see in the terms of our limited understanding, we remain ignorant and indifferent to the Light. Or, we experience a touch of the dazzle ourselves in form of awe, wonderment, a sense of being in the presence of the Sacred, and a sweet and submissive urge to bow down our heads before this Source.

______________________

6. A QUATRAIN

Body of earth, don’t talk of earth

Tell the story of pure mirrors

The Creator has given you this splendour —

Why talk of anything else?

—————-

From:

7. IF YOU DON”T HAVE

you’ve carved a wooden horse

riding and calling it real

fooling yourself in life

though only a wooden horse

ride it again my friend

and gallop to the next post

you’ve never really listened

to what God has always

tried to tell you

—————–

In the physical world, every level of existence (such as the cultural, the individual, the biological, the chemical, and the subatomical) requires it’s own set of explanatory processes and phenomena. How can we claim to deduce understandings of how this world was created by restricting ourselves to the level of this earth? This will never be possible, unless we stop taking the things of this earth as the end of the road, as the literal reality itself. We must take them instead as signs, pointers or mirrors to the deeper nature of things at a level far far beyond the earthly. Instead of restricting ourselves to the details of this earth, we should move ahead to what this detail signifies: the magnificence, the splendour, the sublimity of how it all came to be.

_____________________

8. A QUATRAIN

I have lived on the lip

of insanity, wanting to know reasons,

knocking on a door. It opens.

I’ve been knocking from the inside!

—————–

And so external observations are not the end of the road for the one earnest seeker of the Truth. After you’ve completed your observations, then, like Ibrahim, you must close the door of externality and turn on the fountain of contemplation from within.

___________________________

From:

9. THE TRUTH WITHIN US

‘Twas a fair orchard, full of trees and fruit

And vines and greenery. A Sufi there

Sat with eyes closed, his head upon his knee,

Sunk deep in meditation mystical.

‘Why,’ asked another, ‘dost thou not behold

These Signs of God the Merciful displayed

Around thee, which He bids us contemplate?’

‘The signs,’ he answered, I behold within;

Without is naught but symbols of the Signs.’

—————–

God has already planted the germs for recognizing the truth within us. When we trun inwards, rather than remaining blinded by the tangled mechanisms of the outer world, we come to access and reinstill these germs.

_________

From

10. THE TREASURE-SEEKER

That which is real is nearer than the neck-artery, and you have shot the arrow of thought far afield.

The philosopher kills himself with thinking. Let him run on: his back is turned to the treasure.

Most of those destined for Paradise are simpletons, so that they escape from the mischief of philosophy.

While the clever ones are pleased with the device, the simple ones rest, like babes, in the bosom of the Deviser.

————————

The huge enterprise of science is not even needed to unlock the mysteries of the universe. Those who know the art of looking within (rather than remaining stuck on the without) for answers, even if they lack the material sophistication of the externalists, have more easily acquired that personal and intimate connection with our God that we either are magnetically attracted to or crazily run away from.

____________________________________________________________________________________

I finish with an ayah and a quatrain…

إِنَّمَا يَخْشَى اللَّـهَ مِنْ عِبَادِهِ الْعُلَمَاءُ 

OF ALL His servants, only such as are endowed with [innate] knowledge stand [truly] in awe of God. (in Sura Fatir, 28)

 

11. A QUATRAIN

I know nothing any more, except

That knowing you, I know the source

Of Knowing ; this fire-spring you pull me in

Sometimes, where ‘you’ and ‘I’ burn.

 

Notes

All translations have been taken from the Rumi edition of the Everyman’s Library of Pocket Poets. In order of appearance of quoted poems, here are the translaters with page number references.

  1. Andrew Harvey, p. 60
  2. Andrew Harvey, p. 62
  3. Coleman Barks, p. 86
  4. Nicholson, p. 128
  5. Nicholson, p.130
  6. same as 2
  7. Nader Khalili, pp. 76-7
  8. Coleman Barks, p.84
  9. Nicholson, p. 93
  10. Nicholson, p. 96-7
  11. Andrew Harvey, p. 163

 

 

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LITERATURE|RELIGION: Hidden Meanings in the Universe

In Literature|Religion, nature, perception on July 24, 2011 at 4:48 am

God reflects His Self through the Universe.

To reach Him we must reflect upon the Universe.

Or we may use the writings of those who have reflected before we did.

Windows of Reflection in the Verses of a Poet:

Her shai pukarti he pas-e-parda-e-sukuut

lekin kise sunaun koi ham-nawa bhi ho

Fursat mein sun shaguftgi-e-ghuncha ki sada

ye wo sukhan nahi jo kisi ne keha bhi ho

__

Everything speaks behind these cloaks of silence.

Alas, there is no audience. Ears here are struck.

When free, listen to the sound of the roses’ glee.

This is not speech that has been uttered.

–Nasir Kazmi (Deewan, Ghazal no. 1, p.11)↓1

What is Nasir saying in the first line?

Every object around is a being in its own right with a place in the universe. At the highest and spiritual level of meaning, every object as a creation of God signifies some property of that Creator: beauty, completeness, power, or profoundness. Here, Nasir laments of the indifference of general society to this “World in a Grain of Sand” [from William Blake]. ↓2

The second of the two quoted verses serves as a specific and illustrative example of the general idea in the first. Its first line is very pleasing and fresh (read slowly in Urdu to appreciate). It creates a beautiful image in our mind that is not just a static visual (a pleasant half-open flower bud), but is additionally decked with sound! – a striking combination. One instantly indulges imagining how, say, a rose-bud must sound if we could hear it…

Of course, this is not a literal reference to a synesthetic experience, ↓3 as the word ‘shaguftagi’ helps us realize. Word ‘shaguftagi’ is masdar in Urdu grammar, equivalent to an abstract noun in English. The poet thus is attempting to call our attention to the delightful quality of the rose. It bespeaks some meaning that is part of the mystery of the universe. (The mysterious atmosphere of the Urdu verse reinforces this conclusion).

Moreover, the Persian word ‘sukhan‘ in the fourth line is used not just for ‘speaking’, but also for the best form speech can take: literature. Thus the glee of roses not only speaks, it does so at the highest possible level, aesthetically and meaningfully.

 

The Highest Level of Meaning…?

All communication is made up of small signals or alphabets which combine in a way to form something bigger and meaningful (a symbol).↓4 Symbols (such as words, equations, or lines of html) in turn combine to produce something even larger and fuller. Fuller because the meaning of the combined product goes beyond a mere sum of its parts (such as a rousing poem, a theorem that helps explain some mystery of the universe, or an interactive computer program that seems a far cry from the lines upon lines of dry code it springs from.).

Thus ‘meaning’ is the overall pattern created by hierarchical combinations of symbols and signals. As such meaning is also latent (hidden); it doesn’t reveal itself as long as you stay focused on the underlying symbols or signals. One can’t even see the whole painting on a wall, let alone interpret it, if one is standing too close looking at a portion of the whole. ↓5

The Essence of a Reflection:

In combination, the four lines lend to four major realizations, in deciphering of which, the last line is of paramount significance:

First: The ‘speech’ Nasir refers to is the ‘meaning’ contained in the layers of inscription this world is made up of: the sands, rains, leaves, seasons…. No creator of things ever makes anything without some meaning (or purpose).

وَما خَلَقنَا السَّماءَ وَالأَرضَ وَما بَينَهُما لٰعِبينَ
AND [know that] We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play. [Al-Anbya, 16]

Nasir, in his beautifully conversational way invites us to try sense these messages in nature. her shei pukarti hei..econd: These messages are as real as our speech but seem far beyond the bubble of our existence, since we have never really looked beyond that bubble; or if we did, we just focused on the symbol, appreciating at most, say, the beauty of a flower.  fursat mein sun..

وَإِن مِن شَيءٍ إِلّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمدِهِ وَلٰكِن لا تَفقَهونَ تَسبيحَهُم

and there is not a thing but celebrates His praise; And yet you understand not how they declare His glory [Al-Asra (also Sura Bani Israil), 44]

Third: Moreover, these messages correspond with the finest possible form this mode of communication can take. The whole of Al-Qur’an proves that the form in which the timeless realities of the Universe are revealed must have been the epitome of all literature.↓6
We do not even need a reference ayah for this point. Attend closely to any good and authentic recitation of the Qur’an or learn it by translation.↓7  ye wo sukhan nahin..

Fourth: Nasir’s comparison of these hidden communications to human literature is solely for the purpose of explication. It is no comparison in fact. Since even though many magnificent examples of literature exist, no person has ever said anything approximating the timeless meaning of all the signs in God’s universe.  Qur’an’s own challenge (unanswered to date!) to humans to produce anything like a single surah (Al-baqarah ayah 23) of it is sufficient for reference. jo kisi ne keha bhi ho..

Meta-reflection:

Note that there is an incomplete loop in the flow from human perception to metaphysical inferences. I mean, even though we may begin to glimpse and apprehend to a very meagre extent the mysteries contained in these symbols, they will certainly remain beyond our full encompassment. None of us can ever claim that we have comprehended the universal significance of all objects truly and completely because of their latent quality.
Interestingly, The above conclusion is a highly logical deduction from Nasir’s own words: as soon as the meaning of the universe becomes totally comprehensible by humans, it will be translated into the human form of communication. It will mean that someone has spoken those meanings in words. But that is not possible. That has never happened in this world, and by implication will never happen in the future either.
وَلا يُحيطونَ بِشَيءٍ مِن عِلمِهِ إِلّا بِما شاءَ
and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He pleases [Ayat-ul-Kursi, Al-Baqarah, 255]
Certainly, that is why Nasir refrains from hinting at any particular meaning he might be discerning through his mysterious teachers. Since the bounds between the human and the divine sounds are essentially unsurpassable, any subjectively derived meaning could be just that: subjective. The humility and the unbiasness of the highly real Nasir must prevent him from sharing his intuitions. Poetically, his reticence helps retain the mysterious and obscure quality of the world of meaning and of the corresponding ‘air’ of this verse.
 

 I am amazed what depths of phenomena may be explored in the span of a ghazal’s verse by an honest and artful poet.

Indeed…

God’s own Word can be the only link enclosing the gap between the limitations of human perception and the real meaning and significance of all the elements of the universe out there.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

Notes:

1. Translated by the humble author of the blog.

2. Nasir had a particularly incisive eye for the sights of this world. In the second line of this verse, he laments of his difference in this respect with typical ‘others’ in society.

3. Ever heard of synesthesia? On first reading, ‘the glee of a rose-bud’ reminds of that welding of two or more senses when sights are experienced as sounds (or some such other combination of sensations). For a first hand description of a synesthestic experience, read my older post on ‘outrageous sensations‘.

4. The concept that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ is old (generally known as holism) and has been popularized in psychology by the gestalt school who explain it very well.

5. Read Douglas Hofstadter’s Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid for more on the nature of meaning. My absurd attempt to organize and summarize the concepts developed in the book reads here.

6. On the human level, being able to sense the glee of roses also corresponds with the highest possible form psychological experience can take. Abraham Maslow devoted his life to studying just such ‘peak experiences‘ which have an indescribably transcendental quality, when a person’s senses and emotions seem to go beyond the limits of daily life and to perceive something ‘pure’ and otherwordly.

7. For an interesting article on the literary aspects of Al-Quran, click here.

POINT|COUNTERPOINT: Global Islamic Guidelines for Education

In education, Islam, Quran on April 27, 2010 at 7:00 pm

This post is a result of a challenge given by Umer Toor over at his blog.

THE POINT: The Association for Childhood Education International, in collaboration with the World Organization for Early Childhood,  developed five premises in order to guide the structuring of the education delivery systems across the world. They are fueled by similar to initiatives by other world organizations, such as the UNESCO’s Education for All, are based around the idea of ensuring sensitive and intelligent education of children keeping with all that is rightfully due to them. (In order to read out the five premises, kindly proceed to Umer Toor’s.)

The Challenge: Umer Toor aspires towards “an educational model which be the Mercy for whole humanity“. He has given his readers a challenge to come up with 5-6 premises for education based on our religion. He prospectively calls these premises the Global Islamic Guidelines for Education. What I understand from all the givens of this challenge is:

  1. that the guidelines should be universally applicable, even in non-religious settings (hence global)
  2. and, that the guidelines must be firmly rooted in the holy traditions emanating from Allah’s Word and the Prophet’s Life.

(Right, Umer…?) Here is my meek attempt to meet the challenge. I have consulted only one source: The Qur’an. It is my belief that Al-Qur’an is COMPLETE in its base of knowledge (as, indeed, is certified by the Qur’an itself!*). All the world’s knowledges can be derived from it and return ultimately towards it when studied with true lack of  bias. I have kept to five premises and I try to present them in a meaningful order. May Allah accept my meek effort and enable all of us to institute the true Islamic vision in our homes and societies. Ameen.

The COUNTERPOINT:

Premise #1:

ذٰلِكَ الكِتٰبُ لا رَيبَ ۛ فيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلمُتَّقينَ

I have already laid down the first premise in the above paragraph! The Truest source of knowledge is Qur’an. All knowledges derive from it and return to it.

هُوَ الَّذى أَنزَلَ عَلَيكَ الكِتٰبَ مِنهُ ءايٰتٌ مُحكَمٰتٌ

He it is who has bestowed upon thee from on high this divine writ, containing messages that are clear in and by themselves. [Aal-i-Imran, 7]

In contrast, the traditional worldly knowledges (sciences and humanities) are based on probabilities and uncertainties. I do not think I need to write much on this topic here;  any resource on the theory of science will reveal the essential ‘tentative’ property of the logic on which the castle of Science is raised. However, I once reflected on this topic by reference to quotes from Robert’s Pirsig’s book. The validities of all ideas and theories in science are only as long as the next contradicting research. Even the many conclusions which are firmly believed in at the public level, are based on research methods which provide ‘circumstantial’ evidence at best. [To elucidate this point I will have to describe in detail the distinctions between experimental and correlational evidences; but that is obviously beyond the scope of this post]. On the other hand, Allah’s call to believe in Him, His Prophets and His system of life and universe is tightly logical. His call rests on the means of observations (to support and verify His logic) that He points out amply throughout His Book. Indeed, this is what constitutes the next premise. Any other approach to education will lead to wayward,  contrary, and ‘apparent’ (skin-deep) progress in human lives rather than a true enlightenment of character.

Premise #2:

وَفِى الأَرضِ ءايٰتٌ لِلموقِنينَ﴿٢٠﴾ وَفى أَنفُسِكُم ۚ أَفَلا تُبصِرونَ

And for those with sure belief, there are signs the earth (20). And also in yourselves; Can you not see? (21) [Al-Dhaariyaat]

The whole Creation of Allah serves as the means of observation. The universe is like a web; you begin with any thread, any lead, and it leads you towards the Centre: God. Many specific ‘Signs of God’ are mentioned throughout the Qur’an. Examples can be traced to myriads of the popular academic fields of study such as astronomy, botany, embryology, psychology, geology and physics. Listing all the examples is clearly beyond the scope of the current post. Thus God’s call to the pondering mind encompasses all domains of knowledge that one may be inclined towards. This is in sharp contradiction to some very narrow-minded people who stereotype Islam as backwards and incapacious. Also, the premise indirectly emphasizes the richness, diversity and vastness in the scope of the learned person’s mind – a feature often missing in our worldly ‘specializers’. Now the question is, how and who can these diverse means serve best? The answer leads us to the next premise:

Premise #3: A devote mind, an open heart, and a readiness to acknowledge the truth are the prerequisites to benefit from the means of observation. This premise has been literally lifted from the following verse, though many elaborations of these ‘learner characteristics’ are distributed liberally throughout the Qur’an:

إِنَّ فى ذٰلِكَ لَذِكرىٰ لِمَن كانَ لَهُ قَلبٌ أَو أَلقَى السَّمعَ وَهُوَ شَهيدٌ

Authentic translation: Most surely there is a reminder in this (book) for him who has a heart or he gives ear and is a witness. [Sura Qaf, 37]

That learning cannot take place without proper attention and concentration is a very basic premise and a well-established research finding in psychology. The inclusion of ‘heart’ in the equation might emphasis the ‘with body and soul’ kind of earnest involvement of the learner. In a cliche, you can’t learn unless you really want to learn. In Islam, you can’t learn and benefit unless you really want to learn. The nexus of control here is clearly with the learner unlike the current traditions in educational psychology. The process of learning is not expected to be one-way, driven solely by teacher skills and talent. In fact, nearly a century of research on achievement spectacularly fails to consistently find any additional benefit of teach skillfulness beyond a basic influence**.

Placing emphasis on learner’s attitude also involves reinforcing values for proper and responsible behavior – a feature SO absent in the education systems around the world. The next premise is a further elaboration of this last para:

Premise #4:

Learning cannot take place unless the learner really values and (hence) respects the penultimate source of knowledge (the Creator) as well as the dispenser of learning: the teacher.

Apart from the multiple references through hadith, a direct Qur’anic reference to this premise may be traced to Sura Hujraat:

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لا تُقَدِّموا بَينَ يَدَىِ اللَّهِ وَرَسولِهِ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ سَميعٌ عَليمٌ ﴿١﴾ (1)

O you who believe! be not forward in the presence of Allah and His Apostle, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Hearing, Knowing.

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لا تَرفَعوا أَصوٰتَكُم فَوقَ صَوتِ النَّبِىِّ وَلا تَجهَروا لَهُ بِالقَولِ كَجَهرِ بَعضِكُم لِبَعضٍ أَن تَحبَطَ أَعمٰلُكُم وَأَنتُم لا تَشعُرونَ ﴿٢﴾ (2)

O you who believe! do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet, and do not speak loud to him as you speak loud to one another, lest your deeds became null while you do not perceive.

These rulings directly override the presumptive arrogance of many present-day Students.

How can you expect to gain anything from someone you don’t deem worthy of deference and esteem? With respect come trust and confidence. Many ‘modern’ students lack these two qualities. They don’t trust their teacher (showing patience) when its they, out of their huge lack of exposure and experience in the world, are unable to make out something in the lesson. They become easily judgmental of teacher’s evaluation of their performance because they don’t respect enough to place confidence in the teacher’s discretions.

On the other hand, a truly lasting change in one’s repertoire of skills and attitudes (the true definition of learning on which psychologists also agree) cannot come about unless you first accept and honor the authority of the teacher.

In fact, the premise can be extended towards the means of observation as well. (Indeed, appropriate authentic references may be found in hadith.)  Trees, animals, earth, water, and all the other objects and resources in this world deserve the same treatment with dignity. It’s contradictory to learn your lessons about an object, or use it for other self-centered purposes while also wasting it, or abusing it in any manner otherwise.

The emphasis on this premise highlights that a truly Islamic system of education must have a single criterion to gauge its success: behavioral outcomes.

Premise #5:

إِنَّما يَخشَى اللَّهَ مِن عِبادِهِ العُلَمٰؤُا۟

Those of His servants only who are possessed of knowledge fear Allah [Fatir, 28]

يٰأَيُّهَا الَّذينَ ءامَنوا لِمَ تَقولونَ ما لا تَفعَلونَ

O you who believe! why do you say that which you do not do? [As-Saf, 2]

I feel that these two verses effectively summarize the essence of the fifth premise:

Learning is not meant to be theoretical. It must translate into a stable system of beliefs and behaviors in order to pass quality standards.

The purpose of sending the Qur’an and the Prophet (salla Allahu alaihi wa aalihi wa sallam) was to reconstruct society, not to entertain or to philosophize.

The outcomes of  education are not meant to be seminars, conferences, and research-for-the-sake-of-research. Education serves a purpose and is useless without the purpose achieved. The specific outcomes expected of the true Student of Islam at the personal, interpersonal, spiritual (means in relation to God), societal, national (means the level of ummah), and international levels are manifold and, again, beyond the scope of this post. Summary In summary, a minimum of five premises, grounded in the authentic tradition of Islam, with universal applicability, might be:

  1. True knowledge cannot be based on changeable assumptions and tentative methodologies. It can only come from the Penultimate source of all things: The Almighty.
  2. Everything that is created by the Source can serve as an effective means of observation and vehicles for deriving knowledge.
  3. Learner’s role in the above exercise (point 2) is essential. Full and honest involvement of the learner’s psyche is needed for true learning to be gained.
  4. In the process, the dispenser of knowledge, i.e. the teacher, cannot be ignored. The learner cannot bypass or mistreat the teacher in the quest for knowledge. Otherwise, the outcome will merely be failure.
  5. Education is nothing without its purpose which is a noble character to which only humans (out of all creatures) can aspire. If knowledge does not result in firm and visible changes, the learner has failed to engage properly (or the teacher has failed in their duties).

____________________________________________________________

Notes

* ما فَرَّطنا فِى الكِتٰبِ مِن شَيءٍ (We have not neglected anything in the book) [Al-An’am, 38]

** I’m lazy here. Search out the internet for any reviews on the topic by Hanushek. You will need a basic knowledge of the pertinent subjects, though. ____________________________________________________________

وَما تَوفيقى إِلّا بِاللَّهِ